We were particularly delighted a few weeks ago to be invited to take part in a new series for BBC4 being presented by Clarissa Dickson Wright. They were focusing on the Sunday lunch experience and wanted to film somewhere unusual where they would be able to capture people from across the generations enjoying this convivial gathering across the table. What had attracted the lovely team from Optomen to work with us, was something I had said to a local paper. “Part of what makes Sunday lunch so enjoyable is the experience of friends and family together. It’s an occasion that on a weekly basis nearly takes us back to the ‘family eating round the table together’ nostalgia. You can have the young adults eating off their Saturday night hangovers sitting with grandparents. There’s no separation. It’s the closest thing to a religious gathering.”
It was interesting working with the TV crew, and deciding how much we could prepare in advance and how much leave to our usual muse to decide how things would be cooked. I’d never stuffed a pork shoulder before but knew that the British Lop from Bridget Borlase of Sacombe Hill Farm in Hertfordshire was available and so we decided to give it a go.
This is a pretty fearsome piece of meat and was 8 kilos in all with the bones out (personally I can’t see the merit in boning the joint myself – surely that is the butcher’s craft?) but unrolled. We’d just been sourcing produce in Pas de Calais in northern France and brought back a case of apricots. So we chopped them up with braised fennel, vast amounts of garlic, mustard seeds and lemon rind and let thatmixture infuse. I removed the skin and fat and rubbed the meat all over with oil and lemon juice, black pepper and salt, then slicing big layers into the meat, rolled it up with the apricot and fennel mixture, tying it up with a ball of string. We then left the meat, covered and sitting in a vat of white wine in the oven overnight (about 12 hours) at the lowest temperature setting. In the morning it was a fragrant lump of tender meat with masses of moisture and flavour. About an hour before lunch we roasted in the hottest oven, so it literally caramelised on the outside surface. Sliced and served with mash, swiss chard, new season carrots and tops.
So why take off the skin. Well I always do. To me, crackling is notoriously difficult to make well and by my reckoning is made more crunchy and mouth-watering by letting the cooked fat dry out. So we slice the skin and fat into very thin slivers and make a lattice on a big roasting dish, smothering it all in lemon zest and salt (sometimes a bit of pomegranate molasses as well). Then we roast it off, allowing the fat to render and pouring that off for later cooking use (e.g. I rub the skin of sea trout with pork fat which makes for amazing skin). Once the crackling is done, just let it sit out and dry out until you serve, when you can pop it back for a while to hot up again.
Clarissa seemed enthusiastic about what we do, pronouncing herself impressed by the way we cooked her favourite rare breed pork.